Math dept. hosts STEM day for middle school girls

By: Sarah Rowan, Assistant News Editor

The Towson University mathematics department hosted female middle school students from the Afya Public Charter School in Baltimore City for a day of innovative STEM education Nov. 14.

The event, co-directed by mathematics professor Honi Bamberger and assistant professor Diana Cheng, featured four guest speakers, who each led the girls in activities within different STEM fields.

Afya science teacher Camille Turner chaperoned the event, and emphasized the importance of STEM education for young women.

“I think it’s essential that girls have the opportunity to have hands-on experiences integrating science and engineering, and really seeing clear tasks that they know they can complete, but also challenge them to think and problem solve in new ways,” Turner said.

“In the classroom, for a number of different developmental reasons, girls can sometimes be placed in positions where they feel inadequate to their male counterparts. Having these events that are very girl-centric gives them the opportunity to see success amongst themselves.”

Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences associate professor Rommel Miranda gave the students the opportunity to design, build and test wind-powered vehicles with simple materials.

Associate chemistry professor Cynthia Zeller then led an activity in which students were tasked with deducing who kidnapped Towson University mascot Doc the Tiger by analyzing white powder remnants and a ransom note.
Associate computer science professor Subrata Acharya introduced students to the concept of computational thinking by solving real-world problems with logic design and coding.

Baltimore City Public Schools special education mathematics teacher David Thompson led a maze-building activity that analyzed the mathematical patterns within the solution paths of mazes.

Acharya commented on the falling rates of young women entering STEM fields after high school. She agreed to speak at the event in the hopes of mentoring the girls within STEM education and giving back to those who mentored her in the same way.

“I want to actually make sure that the way I have been mentored, I give back,” Acharya said.

Bamberger described the daylong program as both an opportunity to increase interest in STEM fields and an opportunity to show students that Towson University would be a welcoming environment for their future higher education.

While this is the first year Towson STEM Day has existed, Bamberger and Cheng plan to organize it again next year, should they receive funding. This year, the event was funded by the PepsiCo Foundation, the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics and the Towson University Mathematics Department.

Bamberger explained that the event went along with the university’s initiatives both to increase STEM interest and to increase the number of STEM teachers in the region.

“We figured if we start with middle school, we might end up in a few years with a lot more students interested in the sciences and mathematics,” she said.

Bamberger also stressed the importance of maintaining good relationships with area school systems, and described the event as a “win-win” not only for continuing these relationships, but for encouraging students to consider Towson University as a place to choose for higher education.

“I think it’s just a win-win for everyone…and it certainly is great for the Afya school, because we’re forming a partnership between the university and them,” Bamberger said. “I think that can only be positive.”

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